In the U.S., we face about 1 billion colds a year. That can add up to a lot of sleepless nights, sick days, chapped noses, crumpled tissues, and general misery.
Unfortunately, there's very little you can do to fight the common cold. We have no way to attack the virus itself.
When we get a cold, all we can really do is make ourselves a little more comfortable. These tips won't cure the common cold. But they might make you or a loved one feel just a little better while you recover.
Cold Remedy 1: Have Some Soup or Tea
Chicken soup and tea are traditional common cold remedies that have some good sense behind them. Why?
"When you swallow a hot drink, some of the heat will get transferred from the esophagus to the windpipe," says Norman Edelman, MD, chief medical officer at the American Lung Association. "That heat can help loosen up the mucus and make it easier to cough out."
Since the heat is what matters, what you drink doesn't matter all that much. "Some people like chicken soup when they have a cold," he says. "My grandmother liked hot water with lemon, and some go with hot tea. But they probably all have the same effect."
Cold Remedy 2: Drink Fluids
"There's absolutely no evidence that anybody really needs to go through life drinking eight glasses of water a day," says Edelman. But when you're sick, he says, you should make a special effort to stay hydrated.
Why? Getting enough fluid will help keep the mucus thinner and less sticky. Edelman also points out that when you have cold symptoms, you're losing moisture -- every time you sneeze or blow your nose. Any kind of drink is OK, but limit caffeinated or alcoholic drinks, which may not hydrate you as well as other beverages.
Cold Remedy 3: Moisturize the Air
Since dry air is bad for cold symptoms, using a vaporizer or humidifier will probably make you a little more comfortable. Edelman suggests that you aim to keep the humidity in your house between 50% to 60%. Which is better, a steam vaporizer or a cool mist humidifier?
"Whichever one you choose, the moisture will be room temperature almost immediately," says Edelman. "So it doesn't make a difference." That said, since steam vaporizers can cause burns if mishandled, don't put one where a child could get at it.
Using a vaporizer or humidifier for cold symptoms does require some commitment on your part.
"You have to keep it clean and change the water regularly," Edelman says. "Mold and bacteria grow very readily in those things."
If you're not up to the grave responsibility of humidifier cleaning, you can also moisturize your nasal passages directly -- just use a saline spray. It will also help thin out the mucus.